Phil on Film Index

Monday, July 30, 2012

Review - Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap

Ice-T's documentary Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap is a film that contains something for everyone. For rap aficionados, there is an extraordinary array of talent contributing to the picture, from pioneers such as Melle Mel and KRS One to modern practitioners like Eminem and Kanye West. For anyone less well-versed in the world of hip-hop music, the film is a very accessible initiation, which explains the genesis of rap music and how it has developed in myriad ways over the years. Finally, the film prompts us to readjust our perspective of the rap world, as it digs beneath the money, the glamour and the feuds that are so readily associated with rap music. It is, as the title suggests, all about the art.

This is the first feature film Ice-T has made and he wisely keeps it simple. The film consists of him meeting with a number of rappers and asking them straightforward questions, and while this approach may seem rudimentary in its simplicity, it proves to be hugely effective. Ice-T's existing friendship with many of his interview subjects encourages them to be relaxed and open in their responses. The film has an endearing, easygoing vibe throughout, and the only frustrating aspect of the movie is how little time we get to spend with some of these fascinating characters. Something From Nothing has to fit an awful lot of content into its 106 minutes – the director must have collected enough material for a TV series – and as a result we only get to spend a couple of minutes with many of the contributors before moving onto the next one.

But in those few minutes, Something From Nothing often yields golden moments. KRS-One reveals how his rap career was sparked by having to react on the spot when another rapper insulted him during a performance; Run DMC recalls life as the biggest hip-hop act in the world; Dr Dre talks about the work ethic that has been the secret to his longevity; and the director himself shares some amusing tips on how to recover from onstage slips and verbal stumbles. The film also gleans insights into the writing process of many artists, revealing the careful structure that holds together their most complex rhymes, and in the film's most inspired gambit, he invites each interviewee to perform. Some recite rhymes created by other rappers that have meant a lot to them, while others freestyle a verse, often brilliantly. Immortal Technique's two-minute take on the American experience being undoubtedly one of the film's most powerful moments.

So content is king with Something From Nothing, and Ice-T understands that. His directorial style is unspectacular, although he does incorporate striking helicopter shots that emphasise the geographical spread of hip-hop music, and the rough-and-ready approach has its own charms, as in a scene where he struggles to clear bystanders before conducting a street corner interview. The film is sometimes guilty of touching on aspects of rap culture that it doesn't have time to explore in any depth, but when Something From Nothing finds its focus, it becomes an illuminating and hugely entertaining work, which encourages you to listen to this music with fresh ears.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Review - The Dark Knight Rises

Ambition is a wonderful thing to possess, but sometimes a surfeit of ambition can be a film's fatal flaw. The Dark Knight Rises is the third and final instalment in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, and it provides him with the biggest canvas he has ever worked on. There is so much going on in the film, with so many characters following their own agendas in different locations, as Nolan and his brother Jonathan (his regular co-screenwriter) tell a story that spans months; and the result is a picture that's easily the director's most bloated and unfocused work. He tries to pull the disparate strands together for his explosive finale, and he just about gets there, but the strain this puts on the Nolans' storytelling skills is all too evident.

This strain is epitomised by one moment in particular. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), beaten but resurgent, finds himself stranded in the middle of God-knows-where with no money, no allies and no visible means of transport. We wonder how he is ever going to find his way back into Gotham, a city held hostage and rendered inaccessible by Bane (Tom Hardy) and his army, but the Nolans choose to answer that question by not answering it. By a stroke of the editor's hand, Wayne is back in Gotham, and ready to fight back against his new nemesis. The Dark Knight Rises is rife with such moments, in which characters appear from nowhere and make decisions to serve the twists of the convoluted plot (Jim Gordon carrying the true story of Harvey Dent around in his pocket is another groaner). The film should be sleek and gripping, but the first two hours of this overlong picture feel cumbersome, uneven and inelegant, with the overall tone one of stifling portentousness.

The Dark Knight came out just four years ago but The Dark Knight Rises picks up its story eight years after Batman vanished into the night at the end of that film, taking the blame for Harvey Dent's death so the DA's gleaming reputation would not be tarnished. He has spent the intervening years living in a Howard Hughes-like seclusion, while everyone outside Wayne Manor wants a piece of him. Wealthy philanthropist Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) wants to get her hands on Wayne's fusion energy gizmo, devious board member Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn) wants to get his hands on Wayne's shares, while cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) wants to get her hands on his family jewels (not like that – this is a Christopher Nolan film, remember). As well as introducing us to these new faces, The Dark Knight Rises has to establish Hardy's villainous pedigree and find room for resourceful street cop Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and as the film clumsily hopped between these plot strands, I wondered if there really was any need for more than an hour of exposition at the start of the third film in a trilogy?

Nolan is clearly building towards something in these opening stages, but to what? The Dark knight Rises is not content to simply bring the story of Batman to a satisfactory close; Nolan intends to make something mythic, novelistic, topical and spectacular. With that in mind, some of his storytelling choices are simply baffling. Bane's grand plan – to instigate an uprising of the lower classes in Gotham before destroying it months later – makes little sense, and the long stretch in the middle of the picture, in which Bruce Wayne lies immobile while Gotham falls apart, almost kills the film stone dead. The Dark Knight Rises is 164 minutes long but that's not a problem (anyone who knows me will tell you how much I like long films) but the problem is how long it feels, and the wildly inconsistent pacing and storytelling makes much of the opening two hours almost interminable.

And yet, Nolan's qualities shine through on numerous occasions. His handling of action sequences is still lacking but it has improved considerably on the often incoherent scenes in his previous Batman films, and Wally Pfister's cinematography is predictably striking. He also has an undeniable knack for casting, and some of the supporting performances here do more than their share to keep the picture alive. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is terrific as the young, idealistic cop who essentially becomes Batman's stand-in while he's out of commission, and Tom Hardy brings a presence and direct brutality to Bane, even if there's only so much that any actor can do with that character (Having to emote from behind a mask does nothing for Hardy). The star turn here, however, is Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, who gives the whole production a lift whenever she appears on screen. Hathaway brings two crucial elements to the picture – a sly wit and a whiff of sensuality – that Nolan seems chronically averse to, and her role is vital for puncturing the self-importance that hangs over The Dark Knight Rises, although it is never completely dispelled.

As such, we know that the ending is going to be something big, and to be fair to Nolan, the last 45 minutes of the picture is where it all comes together to an effective degree. Is it worth waiting for? Yes, on balance I think it is, but it's hard to avoid feeling a sense of disappointment after The Dark Knight Rises, a film that fails because it has lost a sense of perspective on what it needs to be. Nolan appears to have positioned himself as a creator of fantastical sights with his Batman trilogy and Inception, but I think it would be good for him to remember Memento, which remains his best work. Working on a small, streamlined picture again may do Christopher Nolan the power of good, allowing his technical proficiency and storytelling ingenuity to really take flight. With a weighty behemoth like The Dark Knight Rises, he never looks likely to get off the ground.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Review - Detachment

Tony Kaye's new film is called Detachment, which strikes me as an inappropriate title simply because the director himself seems incapable of taking a detached approach to any subject. When Kaye makes a feature film, which he has managed to do three times in the past 15 years, he throws himself wholeheartedly into it. This uncompromising style can make his films feel shrill, didactic and hyperbolic – pictures that hammer home their points with sledgehammer subtlety – and those accusations will surely be thrown at his latest. One scene in particular, in which a teacher admonishes a scantily clad girl by showing her a photo of diseased vagina, could stand as Detachment's modus operandi. But while his techniques may be questionable, there's no doubting the man's sincerity, and when this socially conscious filmmaker is tackling a theme that has already been talked to death, perhaps the audience needs to be shouted at in order to take notice?

Whatever its flaws may be (and I can't deny that its flaws are glaring), I found Detachment to be engrossing and often astonishing, and a welcome return for a filmmaker unafraid of letting raw emotion drive his choices. The stage for his explosive film is an American high school, populated by feckless kids and despairing teachers. Henry Barthes (Adrien Brody) is a new arrival, a substitute English teacher whose determination to never get attached to the youngsters in his care means he's the perfect man to call when you need someone to hold the fort, before he slips away as quietly as he came. We've seen this movie before, of course, and we assume we can map out the plot from here – Henry will initially face resistance from the truculent teens before gradually winning their favour and helping them find their voice. We think we know where Detachment is going, but Tony Kaye isn't interested in playing the genre game.

Detachment is a polemical tirade against a system that the Kaye and screenwriter Carl Lund (a former public school teacher) see as being fundamentally broken. A whole generation of kids have been failed by their teachers, by their parents and by themselves, and neither the film's director nor screenwriter are ready or willing to offer easy answers. Instead, the film unfolds in a series of heightened vignettes, showing us teachers at the end of their tether or in confrontation with students. Many of these encounters end in screaming matches (witness Lucy Liu's meltdown when faced with an apathetic youngster) or threats (Christina Hendricks' character is threatened with rape), but Brody provides the film with a necessary oasis of calm at its centre. He is perfect casting for this noble, if sometimes misguided, martyr-like protagonist and he responds with his most empathetic and compelling performance in years.

In fact, the cast is the one facet of Detachment that surely everyone will agree is spectacular. Kaye has enlisted an incredible line-up of actors, with Marcia Gay Harden, James Caan and Tim Blake Nelson joining those stars already mentioned, while talented performers such as Bryan Cranston, William Petersen and Blythe Danner turn up in little more than cameos. However, the film is comprehensively stolen from under the noses of these famous names by two newcomers, each of whom bring an enormous amount of emotion to their performances. The director's daughter Betty Kaye plays Meredith, a sensitive and artistic teen bullied into introversion over her weight and rumoured homosexuality, who forms a deep attachment to Henry, and Kaye's performance makes her the film's most sympathetic character, just about managing to transcend cliché. As 15 year-old prostitute Erica, Sami Gayle achieves a similar feat, making the awkward setup of her adaption to platonic domesticity with Henry convincing and even touching, and her final scenes in the film are heartbreaking.

Perhaps Brody, Kaye and Gayle are so effective because they underplay while everything around them is delivered at a frenzied pitch. Kaye's direction is feverish and intense, utilising garish close-ups and lurid colours, and linking scenes with animated inserts or fantasy sequences. His style recalls Oliver Stone in his early 90's fervour, but there is a sense of Kaye simply throwing everything he has at the movie to see what sticks. This is a 90-minute film that contains enough characters and incident to fill a miniseries, and the director's determination to batter us stylistically, thematically and emotionally makes the movie as exhausting as it is invigorating. Tony Kaye has already made one great film (his 2006 abortion documentary Lake of Fire) and one near-great film (his controversial and compromised American History X), and the messy Detachment doesn't come close to achieving any kind of greatness. However, it does feel like a vital piece of work from a filmmaker whose provocations come from a very genuine place, and perhaps that makes it just as valuable as a great movie. You may love Tony Kaye's films or you may hate them, but detachment isn't an option.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Review - Magic Mike

Steven Soderbergh's fondness for casting actors in roles that suit their real-life abilities is good news for Channing Tatum. Before making his name as an actor, Tatum worked as a stripper, and he has mined his own past for inspiration with Magic Mike, in which he plays the title character. For Mike, life appears to be good; he wakes up with two naked women in his bed, he's busy making plans to turn his passion for furniture design into a business, and at night he struts across the stage as screaming women thrust cash into his thong. But, as we are introduced to Mike's world through the eyes of newcomer Adam (a surprisingly excellent Alex Pettyfer), Reid Carolin's screenplay warns us that there's a soullessness and a dark side to all of these sexy shenanigans.

This portion of the movie makes the film feel a little lopsided. Magic Mike is so much fun when we're either onstage or backstage, enjoying the energy of the strippers' routines and their jokey camaraderie behind the scenes, that the consequences come as something of a drag. It's not that there's anything wrong with these scenes per se, it's just that the film really needed stronger actors than the ones Soderbergh has assembled to make them feel like anything more than familiar, hackneyed moralising. This may be the role he was born to play, but Tatum's range of emotional expression does not match his range of dance moves, and when a poignant close-up is required, the camera lingers on Tatum's face without getting a great deal in return. The same could be said of Cody Horn, who plays Adam's sister and Mike's love interest. She seems uncomfortable and unsure of her actions, and her sullen demeanour makes it hard to give a damn about this burgeoning relationship.

I don't think Soderbergh cares too much about it either. He's far more engaged by his central male trio, who collectively offer a snapshot of a stripper's entire lifespan. Pettyfer is the wide-eyed innocent, drawn to this job by the promise of easy money and sex; Tatum is a man at a crossroads, hoping to leave this life behind and go legit – while Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), is the ghost of stripping future. A faintly ridiculous figure still clinging to his past glories and his dream of establishing an empire, Dallas is the most outrageous character in the ensemble, and McConaughey has a ball playing him. Parodying his own shirtless reputation (and naked bongo-playing skills), McConaughey gives a hilarious performance, but there's also an underlying sense of desperation in his portrayal. This is most evident in Dallas's final dance number, with which he wants to show the world that he's still got it. What exactly is the value of what he's got, we wonder.

Another man showing the world that he's back on form is Steven Soderbergh. When Soderbergh isn't firing on all cylinders, his disinterest is all too apparent, and I've felt he has been coasting through his last couple of pictures. Magic Mike is something else entirely, particularly in the thrilling dance sequences, when the director's eye for a great shot and his sharp cutting generates an intoxicating electricity that reaches the cinema audience in the same way it hits the women screaming around the stage. Soderbergh's direction is fun and inventive (the penis pump shot is inspired), and it's a thrill to see him bringing his loose, energetic style to a subject matter that really benefits from it. Many viewers will undoubtedly turn up to Magic Mike only for the oiled-up torsos, but I hope they appreciate just how well-directed this movie is. The dancers on stage may be the ones putting on a show, but Soderbergh is the one bringing the magic.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Review - Killer Joe

It's easy to imagine the Coen brothers having a lot of fun with Killer Joe. Tracy Letts' story concerns a redneck family up to their necks in bad decisions, with a debt to a hired killer putting them all in jeopardy. The plot rapidly escalates out of control in a darkly comic fashion, but filmmakers like the Coens would have maintained an ironic distance to events, rather than plunging headfirst into violence and depravity, as William Friedkin has done so bracingly in his film adaptation. This is the second time Friedkin and Letts have collaborated – after the excellent and overlooked Bug in 2006 – and they appear to be a perfect match, with Friedkin having no qualms about matching Letts stride for stride as he charts his characters' journey into craziness.

In fairness, the journey isn't a long one. Friedkin sets the tone in the opening scene, which turns the volume up to 11 as a storm rages, a chained-up dog barks incessantly, and a young man hammers desperately on the door of a trailer. This is Chris (Emile Hirsch), a man in debt to bad people, and he is greeted at the door by his stepmother Sharla (Gina Gershon), who is naked from the waist down and thinks nothing of thrusting her unkempt bush in his face. Chris's father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) justifies his wife's state of undress by explaining that she didn't know it was Chris at the door, with the actor's dull-witted delivery of this salient point being the first of many laugh-out-loud lines in the film.

Killer Joe is essentially a comedy – and it is one of the funniest films I've seen all year – but it's the kind of comedy that tries to make us choke on our laughter, which is a tricky balance to pull off. That the film works as well as it does is largely down to the small cast, all of whom are a perfect fit for their roles, but two knockout performances stand out, one from a young actress hitting new heights, and the other from familiar face showing us aspects of himself that we never knew he had.

Chris' sister Dottie is that the centre of the drama and she is a perfect character for Temple, who brings just the right detached, dreamy tone to her performance. Naïve and coquettish, Dottie comes across as a little girl in a young woman's body and she inspires a powerful protective urge in Chris, although the film suggests that incestuous desire might be confusing his feelings. When Chris' plan to bump off his mother and claim the insurance money leaves him indebted to corrupt lawman Joe (Matthew McConaughey), the hitman decides to take Dottie as collateral, and McConaughey takes control of the picture. It has been a long time since I have been excited by anything McConaughey has done, but this is an extraordinary resurrection for a once-promising actor who has spent too many years slumming it with lousy material. Joe is the role that McConaughey so desperately needed, as it allows him to utilise his undeniably screen presence while pushing his persona into darker, more twisted places.

Friedkin is unafraid of exploring such places; in fact, he appears to relish it. He is perfectly at home with the lurid, sensational aspects of Killer Joe, and he remains admirably committed to following through on them. In doing so, he risks alienating the audience (the hysterical climax to the picture is often disgustingly violent, and the chicken scene is already notorious) but with Letts' finding large doses of humour and horror in this scenario, often simultaneously, Friedkin is capable of serving up a queasily compelling spectacle. A film version of Letts' 2008 play August: Osage County is currently in production and I'm a little disappointed that Friedkin isn't taking the reins on that picture. Working with Tracy Letts on his last two pictures appears to have revitalised this director, and I'd love to see push an A-list cast to the kind of unexpected heights he achieves with Killer Joe.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Review - Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present

From March 14th to May 31st 2010, Marina Abramović sat on a chair in the middle of a large hall in New York's Museum of Modern Art. A few feet in front of her another chair was situated, and thousands of people queued for hours for the chance to sit quietly in front of the artist. Some smiled as they faced Abramović, others cried, while some attempted to pull off attention-seeking stunts and were quickly ushered away (although I'm not sure why a naked woman had to be ejected from the show when nude models were situated in doorways around the gallery as part of Abramović's exhibition); but throughout it all, Abramović just sat there and gazed deep into the eyes of each participant. She did this for the six days a week, from the time the museum opened to the time it closed, and she did it without breaks, eventually spending an astonishing 736 hours in the chair as people came and went in front of her.

Abramović's performance – the centrepiece of a career retrospective – was entitled The Artist Is Present, and that's also the title of Matthew Akers' documentary, which follows the charismatic Serbian through this endurance test while also looking back at the path that led her here. The self-professed "Grandmother of performance art" has been working since the 1970s on pieces that force her to throw herself body and soul into her art. For anyone unfamiliar with Marina Abramović's work, many archive clips in this film will be startling and troubling. An early performance involved her stabbing a knife between her splayed fingers and then attempting to repeat exactly the same rhythm, even to the extent of inflicting the same cuts. In another performance she took on an entirely passive role, standing in a room and inviting members of the public to use the various objects nearby as they wished. A gun and a bullet were among the objects made available.

As we watch these performances, the double meaning of the film's title becomes clear – the artist is entirely present in her work, there is no holding back, and no fakery is countenanced. At one point in the film, Marina meets with David Blaine to consider a potential collaboration, but the idea is quickly dismissed because they are in very different businesses. He is an illusionist whereas she is focused on the reality of the human experience, exploring the limits of pain and endurance, and challenging the perception of her audiences. The intensity we see in Abramović as she works is remarkable thing to behold, and it was never more apparent than in her relationship with fellow artist Frank Uwe Laysiepen (or Ulay), a fellow artist who she loved and collaborated with in the 1970s and 80s. Theirs was a passionate and often volatile partnership, but it was also a fruitful one, and the scenes that explore Marina's time with Ulay are the most touching in the documentary. Both artists look back on their time together with humour, honesty and affection, and chemistry that exists between them is still tangible, particularly when Ulay sits down opposite Marina in The Artist Is Present, providing them both with a powerful, cathartic moment.

When the time comes to cover the climactic show, Akers does a fine job of allowing us to share the silent exchanges between Abramović and the various people who cross her path, judiciously using close-ups and occasionally cutting away to those who queued for so long to get just a moment with Marina. The Artist Is Present is a lucid, engrossing and insightful documentary that gives us a full sense of why Marina Abramović is such an extraordinary figure, and why the recognition she is now receiving is long overdue. "Nobody's asking me why it's art anymore," the thoughtful and eloquent Abramović states as she considers her recent embracement by the mainstream. It took the world a long time to catch up with Marina Abramović, but the value of her artistry will surely be apparent to anyone who watches this film.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Review - Ping Pong

One of the subjects in the new table tennis documentary Ping Pong reflected my own feelings when he said he'd be happy to still be walking at the age of 100, but Australian centenarian Dorothy is not content with simply being mobile. She has travelled to China to compete in the World Table Tennis Championships for contestants over the age of 80, where her advanced years make her something of a celebrity among the ping pong-mad Chinese crowd. Dorothy is one of the contestants that Hugh Hartford's undemanding crowdpleaser follows during their preparation for and participation in the tournament, and throughout the film they display a boundless spirit and enthusiasm that would put people half their age to shame. As one interviewee bluntly puts it, "Young people are shitting themselves."

This is the kind of film that succeeds thanks to the strength of the characters it focuses on rather than the filmmaking technique on display, and Hartford has certainly picked his subjects wisely. Les D'Arcy is the 89 year-old avid sportsman from Stockport who is in astonishing physical condition and is one of the firm favourites for the trophy. His good friend Terry Donlon is in a less stable condition, as he has suffered cancer in various parts of his body and his 40% lung capacity often leaves him short of breath during matches, but Terry is determined to go as far as his body and spirit will carry him, and Ping Pong is full of such tales of courage and resolve. 89 year-old German contender Inge took up the sport after a stroke had left her in the dementia wing of a care home, and she used it as a tool to train her body and mind, allowing her to regain her faculties to a remarkable degree.

Ping Pong shows us that this is far more than a sport for many of the people taking part in this tournament. For some of them, it has had a revitalising effect on their lives, and has given them a reason to stay physically and mentally fit, and to make the most of the time they have left. They are all philosophical when asked about their remaining years – 89 year-old Ursula says she would rather die at the table rather than in a home – and the frank good humour they bring to their experiences makes the film highly entertaining. But that sense of humour shouldn't mask the deep-rooted determination that comes to the fore once the competition is underway. When a couple of the sprightlier octogenarians are up against each other the action is surprisingly fast and furious, and there's even a hint of foul play late in the game, as Les's bat mysteriously disappears just before the climactic game.

The film is 75 minutes long and that's just about as long as it needs to be. Hartford keeps it moving, maintaining a light tone and neatly judging the more emotionally resonant moments, and while there's not a great deal to Ping Pong beyond its familiar narrative trajectory, the characters the film is built around elevate it. Their indefatigability and refusal to bow to the ravages of time make Ping Pong a funny, touching and inspiring picture, which goes a long way to proving the adage that you're only as old as you feel.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Review - Where Do We Go Now? (Et maintenant on va où?)

Nadine Labaki's new film is called Where Do We Go Now? but a more pertinent question ask might be, "What was she thinking?" Labaki made her directorial debut in 2007 with Caramel, a modestly scaled and charming comedy/drama that was notable for being a Lebanese film and making no attempt reference the conflict that blighted the country for so long. Perhaps that was the wisest decision Labaki could have made, because her second film attempts to blend light comedy with political commentary, and it flounders almost immediately. Labaki has bitten off far more than she can possibly chew here, and Where Do We Go Now? is an indigestible hodgepodge of half-formed ideas.

The film takes place in a small village somewhere in a remote, mountainous region of Lebanon. Sectarian violence exists on the outskirts of this isolated spot, but the women in the village do all they can to stop news of it from reaching the ears of their menfolk, for fear the conflict unbalancing the peaceful existence they have carefully maintained. The tension that simmers underneath this façade is kept from bubbling over by such tactics as provocative news articles being chopped out of the paper before the men can see them, or the village's only television being sabotaged at crucial moments. All of this is very silly and might sustain the plot of a half-hour sitcom pleasantly enough, but Labaki is clearly trying to make a larger statement with this film, and the message becomes hopelessly muddled in the delivery.

Where Do We Go Now? suggests that there would be no war if women ruled the world, and that appears to be the extent of Labaki's thoughts on the matter. It may seem harsh to expect sharp political commentary from a musical comedy, but a film that picks up these themes without actually having any idea what to do with them inevitably comes off as infuriatingly facile. However, what we are entitled to expect from a musical comedy is a few laughs, but Labaki's broad style misses the mark every single time. She has her female characters come up with various schemes to prevent their men from getting involved in tit-for-tat acts of violence – such as faking miracles in the local church and getting them stoned on hash cakes – but these comic scenarios are so clumsily executed I just endured them until it was time for Labaki to finally move on. By the time the women had decided to bus in a troupe of Russian strippers, I decided Labaki had no idea what she was doing.

And yet, Where Do We Go Now? was the hit at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival, receiving the Audience Award. Did those audiences not notice how tonally schizophrenic the film was? Didn't the total lack of impact caused by one character's death give them a moment's pause? Were they, like the male villagers, distracted from the film's flaws by its breezy style and Labaki's undeniable charms? Perhaps they were, but I saw nothing in this film beyond a director floundering out of her depth. Labaki's debut may have showed promise, but this picture has taken her nowhere.